Based on an online census site, my school district’s adult population is 99% conservative. 99%. Now, I believe most people understand how a community this unbalanced yields detrimental consequences for the 1%. Not only is it difficult to be heard, but it’s also difficult to even speak up with constant negativity and disapproval surrounding your beliefs. For example, with Trump signs on every corner, our little Middle Eastern family felt defeated before the election even began (don’t worry, we still have a 2012 Obama sticker on our Toyota minivan).
In an environment like mine, identifying outside of the norm feels isolating. When Confederate flag patches and the word “faggot” are heard and seen daily with barely any consequences, it isn’t hard to understand what my community accepts as the “norm”. Especially in high school, where everyone desperately struggles to feel accepted, certain labels simply make some students easier targets. Articulate slurs and demeaning labels linger in my school’s hallways, but not all of us let the hate be normalized. Some days, it is hard for the few equality-driven students in my school to speak for half of this country’s beliefs, but we never stop trying.
Recently, a teacher in our school started a Gay-Straight Alliance Club for the queer (and queer-supporting) members of our school. My friends and I were very excited to finally have somewhere within our school to feel like we belong and meet fellow classmates with similar beliefs. During our first meeting, I saw the faces that usually stay in our school’s shadows. These were the kids who wore headphones all day, ate lunch by themselves, and never participated in class. Since I have the luxury of being surrounded by a supportive and inclusive group of friends, I sometimes forget not everyone is as lucky as I am. It is already hard enough to identify outside of the typical status quo, but it’s even harder when you’re doing it alone. With this in mind, I suggested we all introduce ourselves at the first meeting. We went around in a circle, stating our name, grade, sexual orientation, and, of course, a fun fact. Our sponsoring teacher was kind enough to buy us a few pizzas, so after our mumbled introductions, we all hesitantly ate a slice or two. The teacher explained the goals he wished to accomplish with this club, and even with his forced enthusiasm, everyone seemed excited for the rest of the school year.
We had a meeting every other week, and it slowly became a tradition for everyone to bring a little treat. We would discuss problems we were facing in and out of school, charity work we could help with, and, most importantly, what treats we would bring at the next meeting. Eventually, we all knew each other’s names, said hello in the hallways, and talked outside of the meetings. I believe our true progress stayed within our own, accepting community. Even in an environment of bigoted hate, our club members have proven that a sense of belonging is all we need to stay strong. If we stand together, hate has no chance of winning.
While the number of members is low, our spirits are high. We should consider renaming our club to include a broader community of students, but anything outside the norm still seems like too much to a lot of my peers. We organized a clothing drive for homeless people, and students refused to donate because of the club that was running it. It’s hard to justify actions like that, no matter what you believe. Still, our little group in a school of over 500 students will accept anyone. Yes, the other students laugh and insult, but the students in our little club will never go away. It is important for us to stand our ground, no matter how many people try to push us down. Community means so much more than where you live or who you see every day. For me, our little club is my community.